Don’t Let Harassment Fade Into The Background: Senate Bill 1326 “Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act of 2017”

Written by: Friah Danisca L. Pagaduan

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An overwhelming 88% of women aged 18 to 24 years old experience sexual harassment in streets and public spaces every day. Street harassment is a daily reality for a tremendous number of Filipino women and LGBTs. It is inherent in the modern Filipino culture when you’re a woman or a transvestite, streets are dangerous. Street taboos, over the years, has somehow turned into a norm that one cannot easily avoid; it has always been there, along with the busy streets of the country, instilled in the mind of the people trying to ignore such disquieting advances. There are no laws or bills that distinctively address this concern, until recently, it has been recognized as ‘harassment’ and an infringement of the women and LGBTs’ rights (or human rights for that matter); Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros- Baraquel specifically addressed this malaise: the Senate Bill no. 1326 or the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act of 2017 is an act predominantly for the safety of women and LGBTs in streets, public spaces and other areas stated in the sections.

It is the duty of the government to protect and value the dignity of every citizen and guarantee full respect for the right of every Filipino, recognize the role of women in nation-building and secure fundamental equality for both men and women before the law. There are numerous cases of sexual harassment all around the country, 58% of these cases happened along the streets, alleys, public vehicles and washrooms, schools, workplace and other public areas. Many Filipinos are oblivious about the effects of street taboos to the victims; the United Nations Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Program stated that harassment in public spaces indubitably reduces the victims’ ability to participate in school, work and public life. It also blocks the victims’ access to essential services and their enjoyment, and causes unfavorable impact to their health and well-being.

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Street harassment impedes the freedom of movement of Filipinas and LGBTs, and thus it affects their daily productivity. Common cases of street harassment are wolf-whistling and cat-calling, which ‘normally’ happens along the streets and public areas. Other forms of harassment are lascivious language, stalking, rubbing and touching, indecent gestures, exhibitionism and public masturbation. All these disrupt the sense of security in every woman and LGBT, but the promulgation of the act would end these taboos.

Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act of 2017 is an act defining gender-based street and public spaces harassment, providing protective measures and prescribing penalties therefor, and for other purposes. This is mainly for the benefit of women and LGBTs who are the most vulnerable to these threats. The bill provides penalties against gender-based street and public spaces harassment such as undesired comments, gestures and actions constrained on a person in a public place. It includes but not limited to cursing or name calling, wolf-whistling, cat-calling, sexist, homophobic and transphobic innuendos, leering, insistent requests of the person’s name, phone number and destination even after refusal, persistent sharing of sexual jokes, use of sexual names, demands, following and/or stalking, flashing, groping, public masturbation and all resembling cases of sexual harassment and/or assault.

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The specific acts and penalties are stated in section 4. There are three levels of violations; light, medium and severe violations.

Under the light violations are cursing or name calling, wolf-whistling, cat-calling, sexist, homophobic and transphobic innuendos, leering, insistent requests of the person’s name, phone number and destination even after refusal, persistent sharing of sexual jokes, and using of words intended to ridicule a person of actual or perceived gender. The first offense shall be punished by a fine of Php 1000.00 and/or community service for eight hours inclusive of Gender Sensitivity Seminar conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW). Second offense shall be punished by 6 to 10 days arresto menor or a fine of Php 2000.00. The third offense punishment is 11 to 30 days arresto menor or a fine of Php 3000.00

The act of offensive gestures, exposing private parts for the sexual satisfaction of the offender, with the effect of demeaning, harassing, threatening, or intimidating the offended are all under the medium violations. The first offense shall be punished by a fine of Php 3000.00 and/or an eight hour community service also inclusive of Gender Sensitivity Seminar. The perpetrator shall pay a fine of Php 4000.00 on the second offense or an arresto menor of 11 to 30 days. On the third offense, the perpetrator shall be punished by a fine of Php 5000.00 or 1 to 6 months arresto mayor.

Severe violations include stalking, all light and medium violations if accompanied by touching, pinching or brushing against the body of the offended, or any analogous acts on the sensitive and private parts of the offended even when not accompanied by the light and/or medium violations. First offense shall be punished by an arresto menor for 11 to 30 days or a fine of Php 4000.00, provided that it includes attendance in Gender Sensitivity Seminar by the PNP and PCW. The second offense punishment is 30 days to 6 months arresto mayor or Php 5000.00. Arresto mayor for 1 to 6 six months or a fine of Php 10,000.00 on the third offense.

Authorities will apprehend perpetrators of gender-based street and public harassment. Local units of PNP all over the country will deputize enforcers as Anti Sexual Harassment Enforcers (A-SHEs). They will serve as the deputies that will receive complaints on the street and will immediately apprehend the offenders. A-SHEs may immediately issue orders for community service or impose the fines for light and medium violations. Women and Children’s Desk of PNP stations will keep a ledger of these offenders to determine the number of offenses done.

This act shall be effective 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette, and the streets will never be dangerous any longer. Filipino society should leave androcentrism behind, public areas should be safe for everyone.

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